Some films one watches and then immediately recommends to everyone they know. Some films one realises will only appeal to people with very specific taste. I would not recommend ‘Cavalcade’ to those who love films full of action and CGI special effects. It is a film for those who, like me, want to engulf themselves in early British melodrama, with a gloriously staged script and stern acting. The best word that I can find to describe this period piece is sumptuous.
Based on a Noel Coward play, this film charts the lives of two families (one upstairs, one downstairs) from the Boer War to 1933. The film takes the families through the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, the Great War, the roaring Twenties and finally the Depression. It takes the families as a micro-study of society as a whole as they are affected by the world events around them.
The characters are, without exception, interesting and played well. Diana Wynyard is especially good. The different events, however, are handled with varying levels of quality. The Great War section of the film is brilliant, there is a wonderfully harrowing montage of war scenes and how the family is affected by this event is not as predictable as may’ve been expected. The Titanic section, however, is about as subtle as a breezeblock, which is a shame as it could have been handled much better.
There is lots of talk of this film being an unworthy and unlikely winner, but in many ways, I see this as an obvious winner. It is what the academy loves: a social epic about how world events change the lives of those involved, and if modern viewers look past the severe cinematography, and contrived script, they will find a film not dissimilar to several much more famous films (‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Giant’ to name two).
It is the ending of this film which I find so poignant, although Frank Lloyd would have had no idea at the time. The end scene, between the now elderly couple of the wealthy family is one of hope. They have suffered horrifically, but are now looking forward to the future together. Little did the viewers know that 1933 would be the year that Hitler came to power and a period of further unrest would follow.
As a best picture winner it is perhaps the most dated as it has not aged well. For those of you who want to see a early winner where the filmmakers were coming to grips with sound and more modern techniques, coupled with an interesting insight into events of the first three decades of the 20th Century, then it is definitely worth a watch, but expect to find it interesting, rather than typical Hollywood entertainment.